Blu Tuesday: Interstellar, Veep and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Interstellar”

WHAT: Set in the near future, when Earth’s resources have all but been depleted, former astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) joins a group of explorers – Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi) – on a secret NASA expedition through a newly discovered wormhole in the hopes of finding an inhabitable planet for mankind.

WHY: Shrouded in secrecy throughout production, Christopher Nolan’s latest sci-fi mindbender was originally intended to be directed by Steven Spielberg, who first sparked the idea back in 2006. But when he dropped out to focus on other projects, Nolan took over the reins, and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting replacement. Unfortunately, while “Interstellar” is the filmmaker’s most ambitious movie to date, it’s also one of his least accessible, filled with complex scientific ideas (from black holes to the space-time continuum) that make for incredibly dense viewing at times; and in the case of the more theoretical concepts, results in some silly moments as well. The main story is actually quite simple, dealing with well-worn themes like love, survival and time, which is why it’s strange that Nolan wastes so much of the latter (169 minutes, to be exact) trying to make his point. The acting is all top-notch, with great performances from Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain, but the arrival of a big movie star in the final act proves distracting. There are also some really amazing visuals and genuinely heartbreaking scenes, though it’s ultimately a disappointingly messy affair, lacking the discipline and uniqueness of Nolan’s past films like “Memento,” “The Dark Knight” and “Inception.” It was never going to live up to the colossal expectations placed on it by fanboys and the media, but a movie like “Interstellar” still should have been a lot more, well, stellar.

EXTRAS: There’s a 14-part making-of documentary that runs nearly two hours long and covers just about every aspect of the production process, as well as a featurette on the science of the movie narrated by Matthew McConaughey.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Veep: The Complete Third Season”

WHAT: When Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) learns that POTUS isn’t seeking re-election, she begins putting together a campaign team in the hopes of taking over the Oval Office. The usual screw-ups and humiliation follow, only this time around, all of America is watching.

WHY: You’d think that calling your show “Veep” would box you into a corner when it came to exploring potential career changes for the title character. After all, there’s no way Selina Meyer can have any position besides Vice President, otherwise it doesn’t make sense, right? Technically, yes, but that doesn’t seem to have bothered creator Armando Iannucci, because the third season of his HBO series is entirely about Selina campaigning to become the next Commander in Chief… and perhaps more surprisingly, actually gets the job when the current president resigns. That was a bold choice (and one that audiences won’t see the full effects of until the show returns next month), but it takes the series in an intriguing new direction while still allowing for the usual political-driven antics. The addition of Sam Richardson as the incompetent aide assigned to Selina on her book tour is completely unneeded (and not very funny, either), but the rest of the cast continues to fire on all cylinders, including unsung heroes like Timothy Simons, Kevin Dunn and Sufe Bradshaw. Though Julia Louis-Dreyfus receives a majority of the attention from critics and award groups for her hilarious portrayal of Selina Meyer, and deservedly so, “Veep” has always been a team effort, and that’s never been more evident than this season.

EXTRAS: The two-disc set includes four audio commentary tracks with various cast and crew, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Silicon Valley: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: When low-level programmer Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) discovers that the useless music app he’s been working on contains a groundbreaking file compression algorithm, he rejects a $10 million buyout offered by Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) and partners with eccentric angel investor Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) to develop the program himself with fellow programmers Erlich (T.J. Miller), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani).

WHY: What if Peter, Michael and Samir from “Office Space” lived in a tech incubator while trying to create the next killer app? We’ll never know, because while “Silicon Valley” definitely shares some tonal similarities with the 1999 cult classic (not at all surprising considering Mike Judge is responsible for both), the HBO comedy series exists as its own entity. The show is everything you’d expect from Judge – the Season One finale, “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency,” contains what is arguably the funniest and most elaborate dick joke in history – but it’s also his most grown-up effort to date. Though Judge’s humor shines through in the writing, “Silicon Valley” succeeds largely thanks to its ensemble cast. Thomas Middleditch is the perfect straight man to T.J. Miller’s over-the-top tech guru wannabe, while Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani constantly steal scenes as the group’s dynamic duo. The show takes a while to finds its footing, and the untimely death of Christopher Evan Welch will leave a big hole to fill, but by the end of the first batch of episodes, “Silicon Valley” demonstrates why it could be HBO’s ace up the sleeve.

EXTRAS: The two-disc set includes a behind-the-scenes look at making the series, a featurette on creating the TechCrunch conference, and a tour of Pied Piper HQ.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Wild Card”

WHAT: Nick Wild (Jason Statham) is a Las Vegas bodyguard and gambling addict who’s looking for one big score so he can finally leave town. But when a friend is tortured and beaten by a narcissistic mobster named Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia), Nick agrees to help her get revenge, fully aware that his involvement will land him on the mob’s hit list.

WHY: Jason Statham’s third collaboration with director Simon West is a slight departure from the actor’s usual output, more of a character-driven drama than the all-out action films for which he’s best known. Of course, every Statham movie is contractually obligated to contain at least some action, and though “Wild Card” has its share, the first fight sequence doesn’t occur until the 40-minute mark, and even then, it’s short and sweet. But while the film may not be a typical Statham movie, he’s still playing the same basic character – the military-trained badass with a heart of gold – leaving him little room to showcase his dramatic range. The supporting cast isn’t too shabby, either, boasting actors like Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis, Anne Heche, Sofia Vergara and Jason Alexander, but most of them are nothing more than glorified cameos. The fact that the movie was written by William Goldman (based on his novel, “Heat,” which was previously adapted into a 1986 film starring Burt Reynolds) surely played a part in attracting that quality of talent, but sadly, it doesn’t live up to Goldman’s reputation. “Wild Card” is one of Statham’s better movies in recent years, but it’s still an incredibly mediocre crime drama that’s fully deserving of its direct-to-video release.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Simon West and a pair of featurettes on the film’s characters and script.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Outcast”

WHAT: A disillusioned knight (Hayden Christensen) who’s fled to China after fighting in the Crusades is given a chance at redemption when he agrees to protect the young heir of the Imperial throne from his power hungry older brother.

WHY: Nicolas Cage has made some pretty bad films in his career, especially in the last five years or so, and “Outcast” ranks up there with the worst of them. Though the actor is only in the movie for about 30 minutes, showing up in the opening sequence before disappearing until the final act, his delightfully hammy performance (which includes a shaky British accent and top-knot hairstyle) is the only remotely entertaining thing about the film. The rest of “Outcast” is bogged down by wooden acting (welcome back, Hayden Christensen), heavily edited action scenes and Asian characters with such a wide range of accents (many of whom sound more English than the white actors) that it ruins any attempt at being taken seriously. The movie does have some pretty impressive production design considering its presumably small budget, so it’s a shame to see all that hard work wasted on a director more interested in unnecessary visual flourishes (like a POV shot from a water bucket) than focusing on important things like character and story. “Outcast” may have pair of recognizable faces in key roles, but this is basically a Chinese historical soap opera by way of The Asylum.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and interviews with the cast and crew.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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